Weathering the early signs of cracks in their unity, the Republican Party passed its latest spending proposal through the House Monday night, saying it was a good-faith effort to prevent a government shutdown while working to blunt the worst parts of President Obama’s health law.
But less than an hour later the Senate killed the proposal on a party-line vote — the third one in a row it’s shot down — and again demanded House Republicans pass a spending bill without preconditions.
With little more than two hours to go until the midnight deadline, at least a short shutdown was looking inevitable, since it would take at least that much time for the House to put the Senate’s “clean” spending bill through a committee and onto the floor. And that move would assume House Republicans were ready to cave.
Just hours before, House Speaker John A. Boehner had tamped down a rebellion within his ranks from both conservatives, who argued the latest offer was too narrow, and from moderates who said they were tired of flirting with a shutdown.
Despite 12 defections, House Republicans — aided by nine Democrats — powered through a proposal to delay the individual mandate that requires all Americans to have health coverage, and also force members of Congress to forgo taxpayers’ contributions to their health plans.
The 228-201 vote, though, was for naught.
“We are not going to mess around with Obamacare, no matter what they do,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who went on to call Republicans “anarchists” who he said “hate government.” His top deputy, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, accused Republicans of “cowardice.”
A brief phone call from President Obama to Mr. Boehner in the evening failed to break the stalemate, and the speaker soon took to the House floor where he said Mr. Obama had again refused to negotiate.
“This is not about me and it’s not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness for the American people,” Mr. Boehner said.
Their latest bill was much less than Republicans had initially hoped for. Their opening bid was to end the health law altogether, and their second bid was to repeal a tax on medical devices included in the law, and to delay it for one year. Both of those were defeated on party-line votes in the Senate, where Democrats hold a numerical edge — and appear to have the upper hand in the parliamentary maneuvering.
At stake were most basic government operations. National parks were preparing to shutter, federal agencies were notifying nonessential employees they would need to remain home, and officials warned that there would be delays in processing new benefit applications for a whole range of programs.
Still, the list of what is deemed “essential” and remains in effect was longer: air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents, the military and federal law enforcement would remain on the job, though with the exception of the troops, they would do so without paychecks — at least in the near term.
Democrats bristled at the idea that the federal government wouldn’t be able to pay for part of their health premiums.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said small businesses whose employers end up in the health exchanges are allowed to contribute to the cost of premiums, and he said it’s fair for Congress to do the same.
But Republicans said most of those who will buy insurance from the state-based exchanges will not get help from their employers, so neither should members of Congress.
For Democrats, the fight turned into much more than just a defense of the health law.
Top Democratic leaders saw the battle as their chance to break the tea party, which they argue has gained untoward influence over House Republicans’ decisions.
“Just think about it. If we give an inch on the CR, they’re going to take a mile on the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “If you give in to these tactics on any particular issue, it encourages them to happen again and again and again. And our economy is tied in one big knot, and our government is tied in one big knot, and the economy goes down the drain.”
But Republicans said negotiations were essential if the two parties were ever to reach a deal.